150 Sample Interview Questions for Every Startup
As you’re undoubtedly already aware, there are plenty of different factors that need to be taken into consideration when figuring out how to hire the best employees. You can learn a little bit about someone from reading their resume and cover letter, but many crucial questions will remain. Answering these is critical, as research from the Department of Labor Statistics shows that hiring the wrong candidate can cost up to 30% of their salary. Other sources say each bad hire can cost your company $50,000+ or more.
If you’re curious to find out how much each bad hire is costing you, you can use our bad hire calculator to find out for your business.
The interview is your one chance to get the answers you’re looking for, so don’t find yourself caught unprepared without the questions you need. We’ve all gone through the motions of asking basic questions that don’t really engage you or the interviewee. It’s time for you to take control.
Below, you’ll find a comprehensive list of the questions you could ask a potential hire. Browse through it before every interview and make a note of those that are most relevant to your current hiring situation.
Every human being is made up of a unique set of characteristics. We’re guided by experiences and desires that shape who we are at home, which inevitably impacts our performance at work.
Here are some important questions that you can ask to get a sense of who the candidate is:
- Can you tell me what part of your resume you are most proud of?
- What school did you attend?
- What did you study?
- Can you list three traits that best describe you?
- What would the closest person in your life say to describe you?
- What are your personal goals?
- What are your hobbies?
- What motivates you?
- Do you plan to advance your education while working here?
Motivation for the Job
Certainly, you want to know how motivated applicants are for the job they’re applying for. Many studies have found that workplace flexibility is more important to people than compensation, which is why it’s so important to see what people’s priorities are.
In order to determine motivation and priorities, you’ll need to first discover why candidates are applying for your job and how serious they really are. Ask the following questions to separate the applicants that really want your position from those that are sending applications to every job that they found on CareerBuilder.
- Why did you leave your previous job?
- How many years were you at your previous employer?
- Were you happy with your previous co-workers?
- What can you tell me about yourself?
- What made you choose this profession?
- What do you know about our organization?
- Why do you want this job?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Are you applying for any other jobs?
- Based on what you know about our organization, is there anything that would discourage you from working here?
- Do you think that there is anything that could be done to work around these issues?
- Are you more interested in a career that offers great compensation, flexibility or the chance to do something meaningful?
Some employees may have made up their minds that they’re only going to apply to companies that offer the right compensation, benefits and work environment. Highly qualified employees realize that they can be pickier and may not agree to work with a company that doesn’t provide them.
Of course, the challenge for you as an employer is to gauge candidates’ expectations in advance so that you can decide whether they’re worth the extra investment or whether you should just move on to the next candidate. The following questions can help:
- What are your salary expectations?
- What other benefits do you feel are appropriate?
- Can you list any deal breakers that would deter you from working for an employer?
Understanding of the Company
Image by Steve Jurvetson
Think about the last time you went on a date. Did the person you were meeting up with seem interested in you and what you had to say? Or did you feel like your date was just looking to be in a relationship with the first person who would take the bait?
In the same way that you want your romantic partners to be at least a little interested in you as a person, you’ll want to prioritize candidates that have taken the time to understand your company before the interview. These applicants are more likely to take initiative if given the job, and they’re also more likely to be seriously interested in the position.
The following questions will help you see which applicants have studied your company’s products, mission, history and culture before the interview:
- Who are our main competitors?
- What is the name of our founder?
- What skills and experiences should the right candidate have for this position?
- What type of work culture do you feel would be the wrong fit for you?
- How did you hear about the position?
Overview of Strengths and Weaknesses
Weighing strengths and weaknesses is one of the most important aspects of a hiring decision. Unfortunately, it can also be of the most difficult, as it’s tough to get an honest answer from applicants who recognize that their futures hinge on the responses they provide.
The questions covered in this and later sections of this guide will help you to subtly prod applicants into revealing their flaws or elaborating on their strengths. The questions covered deeper in this article will be particularly valuable for applicants that seem evasive or that seem to lack genuineness with their answers.
- Why should I hire you?
- What are your biggest strengths?
- What are your biggest weaknesses?
- How quickly can you learn to use a new application?
- Can you give an example of a career goal that you set and how you went about meeting it?
- What obstacles have you faced trying to reach your goals and what steps have you taken to overcome them?
There’s no perfect 10 out there, just waiting for you to make an offer. Even the best applicants will have their flaws. But what’s most important is how your applicants handle these flaws. Never settle for applicants that let themselves stop improving.
These questions will help you separate lazy employees from those who are actively taking steps to grow and improve.
- Do you have a mentor?
- Who do you look to as a role model?
- What books have inspired you to make changes?
- Have you enrolled in any courses or programs to develop your skills?
- Who has helped you become who you are today?
- What is the biggest mistake that you made in your last position?
- What would you have done differently in that situation?
Every employee has a different level of dedication to their job. You may not be looking for someone that’s married to their job if you’re hiring for a standard nine-to-five position. However, some jobs are going to be much more involved, so you’ll want to make sure that the candidates you interview are capable of dedicating their time and energy.
This may mean that they’ll need to make personal sacrifices, so it’s best for both of you to ask the following questions upfront during the interview process to gauge their willingness to sacrifice.
- What kinds of sacrifices are you willing to make to get this job? Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?
- How do you manage work-life responsibilities?
- Give an example of a time that you needed to juggle your work-life responsibilities and how you handled it.
- Describe a time when you needed to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders.
- How do you prioritize work to ensure your employees don’t feel overwhelmed?
- Are you willing to work holidays or weekends?
- Do you spend a lot of time in the evening thinking about ways to make improvements for your current employer?
- Have you ever had to make a personal sacrifice for an employer?
- Can you explain this gap in your resume?
- Do prefer to work at a single company for a long time or would you rather take a job that suits you at the time?
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Even if the applicant won’t be managing anyone, you’ll still want to make sure that they are have strong leadership skills. Remember, it’s always best to hire employees that can grow and take on more responsibility down the road – rather than simply filling the current job opening.
Here are some questions to help you determine whether or not you’re hire an employee that is (or can become) be a great leader:
- Can you give me an example of a time when you’ve taken initiative before?
- Are you a leader or a follower?
- Can you repeat a comment a previous coworker made about your leadership style?
- What is the most difficult group that you’ve ever had to lead? What steps did you take to make the team successful?
- If you took over as the leader of a team that wasn’t working optimally, what steps would you take to veer it in the right direction?
- Can you provide an example of a time that you had a team member that wasn’t pulling their weight and what you did to deal with it?
- What types of risk do you feel are necessary as a leader?
- Do you feel that leadership is defined by seniority?
- What are your previous boss’s strengths and weaknesses?
- Are you comfortable making spending decisions?
- Are you comfortable being held accountable for employees’ mistakes?
Some employees may not be future leadership material – and that’s ok – but they should at the very least be able to relate to the rest of the team. Consider the following questions to help you determine whether or not the candidates you’re interviewing will get along with their coworkers:
- Are you comfortable assuming responsibilities outside your job description?
- What unofficial role do you usually assume on a team?
- How large was the last team that you worked on?
- Have you worked in larger teams in the past?
- How do you feel that you’ve shaped the outcomes of the teams you’ve served on in the past?
- Do you feel that being a member of a team has helped you do higher quality work or do you believe that you’d do a better job on your own?
- Can you provide an example of a time that you had to work with someone that didn’t like you and what you did to work with them?
- How do you gauge the quality of feedback other employees bring to you?
- Can you give an example of a time when someone on your team lost perspective and what steps you took to bring them back on course?
- What’s the biggest mistake that you ever made when choosing to delegate work to another team member?
- What’s the most difficult part of being a member of a team for you?
- Can you give an example of a time that you had to be responsible for making sure employees met their milestones?
- Can you provide an example of a time when you didn’t get along with one of your subordinates and what steps you took to resolve your differences?
- How would you resolve a situation if a supervisor asked you to do something that you felt was counterproductive to the organization as a whole?
- Let’s say that you had an idea that would benefit the organization, but deviated from company guidelines. Would you keep the idea to yourself or try to seek special approval?
- Do you believe in delegating decision-making authority to your subordinates?
- What risks do you feel you should never take?
- How do you respond to constructive criticism?
Everybody solves problems in a different way. All of these solutions are equally valuable, but knowing the overall process your candidates use to solve problems ensures that they won’t create friction with other members of your team. Here are a few good questions to help you understand each candidate’s problem solving approach.
- How do you go about researching solutions to problems?
- Have you found that your problem solving approach has been different from your past co-workers? In what way?
- Have your coworkers ever objected to your problem solving approach?
- Are you comfortable making quick decisions?
- Can you give an example of a time that you were forced to make a decision much more quickly than you would have liked?
- Can you give an example of an unpopular decision that you made? How was it received and would you make the same decision again?
- Can you provide an example of a time that you applied this approach to solving a problem?
- Can you provide an example of a time when you needed to think outside the box to solve a problem?
- What do you think are the biggest limiting factors to creative problem solving?
- There are many situations where you have insufficient information to tackle a problem. Can you give an example of such a time and what you did to get the information that you needed to move forward?
- What tools or resources have helped you meet organizational goals?
- What is the best idea that has ever come to you?
- What do you feel is the most important thing that you need to solve a problem?
- How do you go about analyzing data?
Ask anybody who’s ever been forced to work with or under a poor communicator, and you’ll hear just how important an employee’s style of communicating can be. Ask your interviewees the following questions to see how they interact with their peers, superiors and customers.
- What kinds of people do you have difficulty working with or being around?
- Can you give me an example of a time that you needed to persuade someone to do something they didn’t want to do? What was the outcome?
- Do you prefer to communicate through email, phone or face-to-face?
- Can you give an example of a time that you had to sell an idea to your supervisor or their boss? What was the end result?
- What are the key factors in a successful presentation?
- Can you give an example of a good presentation that you’ve given in the past?
- Have you ever needed to give a presentation without any time to prepare beforehand?
- Can you describe an instance when you needed to use written communication to solve a problem?
- What do you think are the most important elements of successful business relationships?
- Can you provide an example of a situation where you were confused by a boss’s request and the steps you took to seek more clarity?
- Have you ever needed to fire someone before? How did you go about doing it?
- Can you describe an instance where you had to tell someone that their idea wasn’t appropriate or feasible?
- Can you tell me about a time that you had to say “no” to a request by a coworker?
- How would you respond to this feedback from a customer: “You guys are two weeks late delivering the inventory that I ordered. I plan to close my account and find a new supplier.”
You obviously aren’t hiring someone just so that you can fill out another W-2. You want to hire someone that is going to be have a clear, positive impact on your organization.
Of course, everyone you hire is going to want to give the impression that they’ve been a tremendous asset to their previous employer. After all, according to one study, 42% of engineers believed they ranked in the top 5% among their peers. To help separate the good from the bad, start off by asking applicants if they feel they’ve created a positive impact for their previous employers, and then prompt them to elaborate on how exactly they’ve done so.
- What difference(s) have you made in your career?
- How did your work affect your previous employer?
- Do you think that your previous employers are happy with their decisions to hire you?
- Why or why not?
- Can you provide a specific example of a time that you implemented a new idea that had a noticeable change in your company?
- What metrics do you use to measure the benefits of your or your co-workers’ contributions to the organization?
The workplace can be very stressful, so it’s no surprise that several studies have found that around a third of employees have trouble coping with the expectations that are placed on them. Asking the questions below will help you find people that are capable of managing their stress in order to avoid being burned out.
- What makes you uncomfortable at work?
- Have you ever felt that a job was too overwhelming?
- What’s the most stressful situation that you’ve found yourself at in work?
- How do you cope with stress?
- What is the most difficult career transition that you’ve ever needed to make?
- How much work do you feel you can handle before feeling burned out?
- Have you ever needed to speak with a union rep or supervisor to request special accommodations to deal with stress?
- Are you comfortable telling your supervisor if you feel that you have taken on more than you can handle?
Image by BK
Setbacks are discouraging for everyone. However, some people sulk and whine when they don’t reach their goals, while others rise to the occasion and find a way to persevere. Thomas Edison, for example, spent 14 months testing different filaments in the light bulb before he found one that worked.
You want to hire employees that are able to handle defeat gracefully and become stronger in face of it. The following questions are designed to test their resiliency:
- What steps do you take to cope with setbacks?
- Do you believe that competition in the workplace can improve performance?
- Can you give an example of a time when a project didn’t go your way and how you handled it?
- What steps have you taken to improve after failing to meet your long-term goals, work-related or otherwise?
- At what point do you feel that it’s worth giving up on a project?
- When has your perseverance paid off for you?
- Do you believe that you can overcome your current obstacles given enough time and sufficient resources?
Conforming and Adjusting
Candidates may be exceptionally talented, but they may still not be the right fit if they don’t fit your organizational culture. Tony Hsieh, the head of Zappos, has said that his organization requires candidates to go through an interview with the HR department after passing an interview with their hiring manager. The HR interview is done solely to ensure that the candidate is a good fit for the organizational culture.
You don’t necessarily need to conduct a separate interview, but you should definitely ask some or all of the following questions to make sure your potential hires will fit in well with the rest of the team.
- What do you do to get along with people with different personalities, backgrounds or perspectives?
- Have you ever found yourself in a company culture that wasn’t conducive to your personality or leadership style? What steps have you taken to adapt?
- Can you give an example of a time that you were forced to go along with an idea that you didn’t like?
- How do you handle working with a boss who has a different perspective?
- How did you make the adjustment from high school to college?
- Are you comfortable traveling when necessary?
- How well do you cope with tight deadlines?
- Are you dependable about getting to work on time each day?
- Do you work better in a structured or laid back environment?
An employee’s ethics are every bit as important as their skills. Ethics extend beyond merely knowing not to lie, cheat and steal. You also want to make sure that your candidates have empathy for the rest of their team and that they’ll strive to do the right thing.
Here are a few good questions to gauge their moral compass:
- Can you describe a time when you witnessed an employee doing something that didn’t fit the company standards?
- Have you ever had to make a personal sacrifice to do the right thing?
- Have you ever encountered a situation where you felt lying was the best thing to do?
- Do you believe that it’s okay to bring company materials home without explicit permission?
- What would you do if you ever felt a supervisor was doing something unethical?
- Do you feel that it’s okay for supervisors to date their employees?
- Do you feel that it’s okay to use your leadership role for personal gain if nobody’s hurt as a result?
- What would you do if you noticed an employee was feeling overwhelmed?
- What would you do if a coworker was facing serious difficulties while you were facing a lot of pressure yourself?
- Can you give an example of a time that you placed the needs of a coworkers (or anyone else in your life) above your own?
- Do you feel that doing right by others is more important than achieving company goals?
Ask Specific Interview Questions to Find the Right Candidate
Finding good candidates isn’t easy. You’ll need to carefully interview all of your potential
employees to determine whether or not they’ll be a good fit. Unfortunately, savvy applicants are well familiar with the standard interview questions and know how to give “feel good” responses to them. Throw them a curveball by asking questions from the list above they aren’t expecting in order to get the answers you need.
Do you have any other interview questions you use to help vet candidates? Feel free to share them in the comments below!